Environmental Law Curriculum

Environmental law is a dynamic and far-reaching field. Nearly every lawyer, whether or not involved in an environmental law career, eventually deals with it. Energy and environmental law are front-page news now, and forthcoming global warming regulation will almost certainly affect every sector of the economy. There is, and will continue to be, a demand for lawyers with environmental expertise and the ability to advise clients on the environmental implications of corporate transactions, development projects, and litigation involving state and federal environmental laws.

For students interested in environmental law careers, there is increasing demand for young environmental leaders in law, business, and government. Our graduates have gone on to distinguished careers in national, regional, and local environmental organizations involved in litigation, lobbying, educational, and policy work; federal, state, and local agencies that implement legislation, regulate private sector activities, and comply with their own obligations under environmental laws; and private law firms that help clients comply with environmental laws and regulations.

To prepare students to meet the rigors of this rapidly changing field requires an approach that is at once comprehensive but also adapts to the changing nature of the law. It is unusual for students to focus on one particular area of environmental law, and more important to develop broad expertise and the ability to tackle a wide variety of challenges. Students should take advantage of our extensive course offerings, including numerous upper-level seminars.

This overview of the environmental law curriculum at University of Richmond School of Law focuses on law school courses, but students should be aware that they have many more avenues for environmental law learning. These include special educational events (including conferences and symposia) sponsored by the Robert R. Merhige, Jr. Center for Environmental Studies and the student-led Richmond Environmental Law Society, independent study in environmental law for credit under the supervision of a professor, and graduate-level courses taught by the University’s large faculty in Environmental Studies (some of which are available for enrollment for law school credit).

Introductory Course

All students, not just those interested in a career in environmental law, should consider taking the introductory course in Environmental Law. This course looks at current issues in environmental law through the lenses of ecology, politics, economics, and ethics, exploring the diverse and conflicting perspectives of students’ potential future clients (including environmental groups, government agencies, and businesses). The course confronts issues such as how law regulates private economic activity, how it allocates scarce resources, and how it weighs the interests of future generations. It examines the interaction of Congress, federal agencies, the states, and the courts in developing and implementing environmental law. As such it provides an excellent introduction to the regulatory system, and can (and often does) serve as a foundation for not only advanced environmental law courses but also public law courses in other fields.

Upper-Level Electives

After taking the introductory course, students considering an environmental law career should take additional environmental law electives. Taking several of these courses provides students with the broad base of expertise necessary for a career in environmental law. The electives currently offered in environmental law include Energy Law, Land Use Planning, and International Environmental Law. While none of these courses has any formal prerequisites, having taken the introductory course in Environmental Law will enhance the educational experience in all of them, as many build upon concepts, principles, and laws first introduced in that course. Upper-level electives in closely related fields include Local Government Law and Real Estate Transfers and Finance.

Intensive Courses

We also currently offer two courses—Law of Climate Change and Environmental Lawyering—designed to provide students with intensive hands-on experiences in environmental law. We strongly recommend that upper-level students interested in Environmental Law take both of these courses. Students in Law of Climate Change take a comparative look at the fastest growing body of judicial, regulatory, and international environmental law, involving control of greenhouse gases in the U.S. and around the world. The course centers on a simulation exercise involving students in real-world negotiating and drafting to address global warming issues. In Environmental Lawyering, students confront a number of real-world problems in environmental practice, including researching and commenting on regulations, drafting motions, providing compliance advice, and negotiating consent decrees and settlements. The course is built around simulations and problem exercises and provides exposure to the diverse range of legal settings in which environmental lawyers practice.

Both courses have limited enrollment. Law of Climate Change is typically offered in the fall and satisfactory completion of course requirements meets the School of Law's Upper Level Writing Requirement. Environmental Lawyering is typically offered in the spring. 

Electives in Other Areas

Students interested in environmental law should take a number of courses in other curricular areas, some of which are indispensable to environmental law practice. These courses include Administrative Law, Bankruptcy and Creditors' Rights, Corporations, Insurance Law, Federal Courts, and Evidence.

Clinical Opportunities

Students interested in an environmental law externship should consider the Clinical Placement Program. This program places students as externs with environmental groups (including the Southern Environmental Law Center and Chesapeake Bay Foundation), government agencies, and in-house legal departments of local corporations.  

Dual Degree Program

Some students have successfully pursued a joint J.D./M.U.R.P. degree with Virginia Commonwealth University's School of Urban and Regional Planning. This arrangement makes it possible for students to receive a law degree and an urban and regional planning degree (M.U.R.P.) in four years rather than the five years ordinarily required. The purpose of the program is to integrate the two professional curricula and to provide the expertise necessary to apply legal analytical skills and planning methods and analysis to urban and regional policy issues and problems. Interested students must apply separately for and be admitted to the School of Law and the M.U.R.P. program. Students will spend their entire first year in either the School of Law or the M.U.R.P. program, and their second year in the program not selected in the first year. Students accepted into this program will be permitted to count 12 semester hours of work in the School of Law toward satisfaction of the degree requirements of the M.U.R.P. program, and 12 semester hours of work in the M.U.R.P. program toward satisfaction of the degree requirements of the law school. Accordingly, students can meet the requirements for both degrees in four years.